Six feet, eight inches tall, given to doing pull-ups on the office rafters, carrying the upper-body strength of a construction crane, Patrick Swanson nevertheless has health issues. They become particularly onerous during late Summer and early Autumn of every year. He can’t sleep past 4 AM. His appetite slumbers for long periods, then rages out of control. His rhythms disrupted, he loses focus on what’s before him, obsessing instead over the “silvery flashes” darting through his mind.
A metabolic problem? Restless leg syndrome? Mental issues? No. Patrick has Chronic Annual Re-occuring Steelhead Fever, which he first contracted at age 10 backtrolling a wiggle-wart on the Columbia River in eastern Washington state.
“I still remember the size, too: seven pounds, thirty inches long,” Patrick says, looking distant, seeing silvery flashes. “When I say it out loud, it sounds like giving birth to a child, doesn’t it?”
The only locally-available palliative for CARSF is found in the sterling waters of Idaho’s Clearwater River, about an hour to the south of the Populi office. A four-hour early-morning round trip takes the edge off the shakes and pangs just enough to spend the rest of the day holed up here, where Patrick earns his health insurance as Populi’s System Administrator and chief bug exterminator.
As bug-stomper, he forms an integral part of our Customer Support crew. When a customer says, “This ain’t working,” after Populi Support verifies it, Patrick hears about it and laces up his size 16′s. As System Administrator, Patrick’s workday can be fairly catch-all. He sets up new servers, keeps up with how they’re performing, upgrades background software, constructs security bulwarks, runs database queries, and a dozen other things. He does all this by tapping on a keyboard, looking at things on monitors, and through the sheer force of intimidation via his flawless Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation.
The keyboard and monitor stuff he learned while earning his Computer Science degree at the University of Idaho, which developed and honed his considerable security chops. “They have this thing called RADICL—Reconfigurable Attack-Defend Instructional Computing Lab. It’s an air-gapped computer network that’s not connected to the external internet in any way. Basically, it’s an instructional facility for computer security and a free-for-all hacking playground.” If you think that’s esoteric, another part of his education involved “drawing state diagrams for finite non-deterministic automation systems”. In the midst of all this, Patrick remained focused on becoming employable post-college and developed a focus on solving real problems. Like the rest of us here, he worked a few years at EMSI on security and systems administration before cutting loose to help craft Populi into a going concern.
Thus, the computers. The Schwarzenegger impression originated with Patrick’s older brother Lucas, whose predilection for weightlifting molted into a robust appreciation for the acting chops of the former Governor of California. The brothers diligently studied the man’s ouevre, repeating lines of dialogue until they mastered the original Conan the Barbarian’s certain je ne sais quoi. Patrick, in the process, more than came into his own: “Now, when we’re together, it sounds like a troupe of Arnolds are in the room.”
The Swanson boys grew up in southeast Washington’s Tri-Cities area near their father’s groundwater remediation work at the Hanford nuclear site. Their sisters—including Patrick’s twin (she looks nothing like him)—ardently pursued music while the boys were outside stalking game through the sagebrush and dry hills. Then came that day at age 10 when he saw the flopping seven-pounder at his feet on the edge of the Columbia River. When the fever overtook him.
Since then, his search for a cure has been admittedly tepid. Asked how he copes, he simply starts speaking: “The biggest steelhead I caught was around 15 pounds. Not huge but a decent fish. The steelhead on the Clearwater are B-run steelhead which means they’re a bigger strain. They stay in the ocean an additional year before coming up to spawn—as opposed to the smaller A-run.
“But I’m still searching for that elusive, 20+ pound steelhead,” he concludes. Then his forehead twitches.